Two different experiences of sound this week; one my own, and one experienced by another that brought back memories of my own experience, brought home the effect that sound has on our lives and our emotions.
I usually rise about five am each morning, either as a result of my alarm clock or a wet Augie Dog nose poked into my face or armpit. Earlier this week I had only been upright for a few minutes when the sound of a very mournful siren reached me through the open bedroom window. It was not a siren, and I am still assuming that it was a siren, that I had heard before.
Living in a rural area our fire brigade is run by volunteers and remembering the scream of the siren to alert volunteers back in my childhood home town, I surmised that the sound I was now hearing was a call for the fire brigade. It was the actual sound of the siren, or the type of sound that it emitted that affected me instantly.
Last weekend I was watching a British television show and it mentioned the “workhouse howl”, the howl that inmates in the workhouse, people who had suffered immeasurable loss, grief and suffering cry in their darkest moments. This siren sounded just as mournful and instantly touched my mood. Days later, I still feel a heaviness in my heart from that sound. It wasn’t because of the thought of a fire and potential suffering somewhere connected to a fire alarm, it was more primal than that. It was the sound itself.
When I was a small child I remember seeing a movie, and only now I think back that it was probably the original Anne Frank movie. It was a world war two storyline and there was the sound of the SS cars and trucks, sirens blaring through the streets as they set out to tear the Jewish from their hiding places. The sound of those sirens haunts me down through the decades.
This week, we skyped with an old Japanese man who is a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki. He spoke of the silence immediately after the bombing, how the world went silent. No human sound, no animal or bird sound. Complete and utter silence. He could not tell if it was seconds or minutes, eventually he heard himself calling for his mother and for Buddha to help him. Then the human cries rang out over his cries.
His description brought back to my mind the floods we experienced in 2011 when so many people lost their lives. I remember the silence as the waters encroached and the animals, especially the birds left the area. Silence that was unnatural and frightening. Nature knows, it speaks through silence.
Now that I live in the country I notice sound more acutely. When I spend the weekend in the city I feel the pressure of sound – cars, planes, neighbours and their activities, children crying and playing – and by the end of the weekend I want to run back to the natural sounds of my home.
I wonder if we pay enough attention to the sounds in our environment, of our selection or of our tolerance, and how it shapes our human experience. I know that, especially when I am tired or stressed, that sound can be the “thing” that tips me over the edge into stress. Sound, such as the howling siren of fire alarms and movie sound tracks, can stay with me for days, even years it seems.
I hope your day is filled with the sound of laughter and love today. May the sounds you hear bring you comfort and joy. That is my wish to you this day.